It's no secret that breakfast foods like cereals and pastries are loaded with sugar. The sugar coated cereals, donuts, Pop-Tarts, and cinnamon glazed rolls have become the norm for many and, unfortunately, what today's children have come to expect.
Parents and health professionals are beginning to notice that these are the things being served to children in schools as part of their breakfast programs and this fact is not being noticed in a positive light. Because of this, I was approached to put together a presentation and make a plan to help the local elementary school recreate their free breakfast program.
When I agreed to do this project I didn't realize it at the time, but it turned into an extension of my education on the harmful effects of sugar and fueled the fire of what I like to refer to as my "War on Sugar."
The obvious issues I found were foods filled with sugar, little fiber, little protein, and a fuel source that was only going to cause a crash in a few hours. In my eyes, the food being served by the school should reflect some of the healthiest choices possible. If the students are eating breakfast and lunch at the school, it is important that these meals be healthy and nutritious. The sad truth is that for some students, most of their food comes from what is provided by the school due to financial issues in the home, on top of that, some parents may not have the knowledge to know what a healthy meal really is to be able to provide that in the home. That's not meant to be a negative comment directed toward any parents, but rather a problem I see in our society. People everywhere lack knowledge about proper nutrition simply because it's not readily available. This is definitely a change that I hope to be a part of in years to come as I plan to stay involved in the community in terms of nutrition education. I think if we focus on our school meals being as healthy as possible, this can also be a teaching point or an example set for children, parents, and families for what could be provided as healthy options in the home.
While my views focus on healthy meals and setting an example through the school food programs, I have found that some of the school food service staff simply have the overall well-being of the child in mind. They want to make sure that the child is getting nutrition and in order to do that, they provide options that they know the children will like and eat. In past attempts, they have found that offering cereals that are not sugar coated are sent back to the kitchen as the students choose not to eat this type of food. This causes concern in the food service staff because they feel they aren't fulfilling their goal of providing nutrition for the children. While I applaud the compassion and care these individuals have for the students in making sure they are given fuel, I also think that we need to take it a step farther in not only offering nutrition, but a good quality of nutrition that, as I mentioned before, sets an example for choices to make outside of the school setting.
The school food service programs have so many obstacles to overcome. After the meeting I had last week, I realized more of these obstacles and now know how difficult it is for these food service employees to organize, order, prepare, clean up AND provide the best options. There are only so many employees and so much time. Also, with the regulations and expectations given to these programs by the government, there is an added difficulty. The students must be provided with certain types of nutrients and keep cost of the products and labor under a certain dollar amount per student.
Unfortunately, large corporations noticed the issues school food service programs were facing, took the government standards into consideration, and are actually taking advantage of these programs. A prime example is the new "whole grain" Pop Tart that Kellogg's is offering. One of the major requirements for school breakfasts is to offer whole grains. In fact, all of the grains offered, at least in the school system I am working with, are whole grains. So, knowing this requirement, and knowing that schools are going to go with an easy, cost effective option, Kellogg's added a whole grain option to their line of Pop Tarts. But, let's look at a side-by-side comparison of the nutrition facts of a whole grain (also advertised as low fat) Pop Tart and a regular frosted Pop Tart.
If you notice, the regular Pop Tart option on the left only has one more gram of sugar than the low fat/whole grain option. The only major difference here is a few grams of fiber and less fat in the option on the right. But, notice sugar as the second ingredient of the "better" option and what seems to be a LONGER ingredient list! Both options show that there is less than 2% actual dried fruit in the product, and, even for the strawberry flavor, there is not only dried strawberries, but also dried apples and pears....maybe there's a good reason for this that I don't know about, but it seems odd to me.
That's just one example of how these corporations are taking advantage of the obstacles the school food service programs are facing. In my work with the school, I do hope that I can provide options that are cost effective and healthy to be able to eliminate these sugary options all together. Here's to making small changes that will hopefully turn into bigger changes and make the lives of these students just a little healthier.
I will continue this adventure with the school by going in to observe how the program works in the kitchen and the classroom and then create a prospective menu to be implemented in upcoming months.
Although I planned on including some of my research in this post, it's already become more lengthy than I had planned. I created a post in August of 2015 when I began having a greater focus on nutrition and the issues with sugar. This presented some basic information about sugar including my small amount of knowledge at the time. Look forward to a more extensive breakdown of how sugar effects the body in weeks to come.
Have a great week!